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The requirement to file federal taxes hinges not only on your income, but also the source of it. This applies to your salary or wages, and also to income from other sources, such as investments and the sale of property. Before you decide whether or not to file, consult a tax professional. You may qualify for a refund that you'll miss if you don't file a return.
The minimum income for filing federal taxes depends on your marital status, age, whether you have children and whether you can be claimed as a dependent on someone else’s return. In 2011, for example, if you were single and under age 65, you would have to file taxes if you earned over $9,500, but you could earn up to $10,950 without filing if you were over 65. If you are a dependent on someone else’s taxes and you earn more than $5,800, you also may have to file taxes. If you are self-employed, the limit is much lower because no federal income tax, Social Security or Medicare contributions have been withheld from your pay. For 2011, any self-employed person who earned more than $400 had to file taxes. These limits change each year, so consult IRS Publication 501 for the requirements for the year in which you're filing.
If you received a federally subsidized loan after Dec. 31, 1990, to help with the purchase of your home, you must file federal taxes in the year that you sell it or transfer it to someone else. The federal government may require you to pay back some or all of the subsidy you received. This is called “recapture tax.” If you refinance your mortgage, however, you are not required to file federal taxes and you are not subject to recapture tax.
In addition to your salary or wages, other sources of income may trigger the requirement to file a federal tax return. For example, if you sell your home, you may be subject to capital gains tax, and you must file a return to make this determination. Also, if you make an early withdrawal from a tax-deferred retirement plan, such as an individual retirement account (IRA), you must file. If you earn tips that you did not report to an employer, this income has not been subject to federal tax, Social Security or Medicare withholding, so you must file a return to report it and pay any taxes due.
It may be tempting not to file a return if you don't have to, but this strategy could cost you money. For example, if you and your spouse earned less than $19,190, you may qualify for the Earned Income Tax Credit, which could result in a refund of some of the federal taxes withheld from your pay. If you adopted a child, you probably qualify for the Adoption Tax Credit, and if you purchased a home, you may qualify for the First-Time Homebuyer Credit. Other credits are available for educational courses and medical insurance payments. These special credits reduce your taxes, but you must file a return to claim them.
- Internal Revenue Service: Do You Need to File a Federal Income Tax Return?
- Internal Revenue Service: Earned Income Tax Credit for Everyone
- Internal Revenue Service: Preview of 2012 EITC Income Limits, Maximum Credit Amounts and Tax Law Updates
- Internal Revenue Service: General Instructions for Form 8828
- Efile.com: Do I Need to File a Tax Return?
- Internal Revenue Service: Publication 501
- Form 1040 Tax Forms image by Viola Joyner from Fotolia.com